Many authors will tell you that it’s harder to write a short story than it is to pen a full novel. With a novel you have freedom to roam the countryside, smell the flowers, talk to the animals, and camp out for a few nights. With a short story, writers tend to focus on a limited number of characters, a couple of settings, and a tight plot. Also, with a short story, it’s quite common for the ending to be ambiguous and open to interpretation: a lot is left to the reader’s imagination. A genre perfect for the short story is horror.
Detroit writer K.T. Rose writes horror, thriller and dark fiction, and posts some of her work on her website. Recently she publishedClaire’s Apocalypse, a disturbing short story that fits the criteria set out in the above paragraph. The main character is Dr Claire Lyle, a renowned scientist who specialises in virology, and is employed by the US government to head up their bioweapons division. After reaching a major breakthrough in the development of a weaponised virus, she and her colleagues are distraught when a new general takes over and orders the project shut down and the serum destroyed. Claire has devoted her entire working life on this project, to the detriment of her family and personal life, and she decides to take immediate and drastic action.
K.T. Rose wastes little time and uses every word and scene to portray a woman driven close to insanity by the very nature of her job. She makes a rash decision that heralds the end of the world and the climax is both brutal and shocking. The action takes place in two locations: Claire’s laboratory and a coffeeshop where she hopes to meet the person who will help her with her dangerous plan. In the end, though, there is no way out for Claire. Nor is there one for any of us in this story. Claire’s Apocalypse is a great example of what might happen when people who should know better play God with the lives of others and nature itself. It’s well worth reading, and K.T. is an author to look out for.
California based David Barclay’s novella The Devil’s Mistress is a quick and involving read that left with me with a ton of questions I need answering, the most relevant one being: Is that it? Yes, I know it’s a novella, but there is so much mythos to explore in the story’s setting that I hope the author comes back for more.
The year is 1705, the town is Blackfriar, Virginia, in a country that has yet to shake off its British colonizers and puritanical roots. Isabella Ashcroft is in fear for her father’s life and when the story begins she’s making a dangerous late-night dash to the legendary and feared Lady of the Hill. The Lady offers to help Isabelle with her problem, but there will be a price–there’s always a price to pay when you deal with forces you can’t even begin to understand, and when words have more than one meaning.
Isabelle’s worries are not just confined to her father’s failing health, but she’s also betrothed to a man with such callous disregard for human life. Don’t forget, this is a time when rich white people had slaves and treated them abominably. For me, this is and will always be the real horror. Thomas Huxley and his mother, Marianne, are characters that are without redemption and will deserve their fate when it arrives. But I digress.
Events overtake Isabelle and she finds herself accused not only of murder but of witchcraft. The novella then races towards its grisly and brutal climax. Barclay finely balances his writing, mixing historical accuracy with the necessary components of a horror/revenge story. Overall I liked it, but for me, I would like to see a deeper exploration of the themes. Particularly in the story behind the story: there is so much to written and characters to be developed even before The Devil’s Mistressbegins. In my opinion, the most interesting aspect of the novella is what we don’t yet know. I ask David Barclay to give us more.
The Devil’s Mistress was published on March 16, 2021, by Silver Shamrock Publishing, and I thank them for providing me with a copy to review here.
In the week I finally got around to watching all nine episodes of CBS’s recent adaptation of The Stand, it seemed apt that I also took the time to read the latest publication from the Master of Horror himself, Stephen King. Lateris the third novel King has published under the imprint of Hard Case Crime, the other two being The Colorado Kid and Joyland. It’s notably shorter than most of King’s output, but at 248 pages, I was left with the feeling that it could’ve been a longer book. That’s not to say that I felt cheated — King, as an author and a human being, has never cheated me as a reader, regardless of what you think about how he closed off his magnum opus, The Dark Tower.
Drawing immediate comparisons with M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, Lateris the story of Jamie Conklin, who narrates with a style that’s a mix of sardonic wit and knowing irony. He’s a Gen Z kid, basically. Jamie has the ability to see dead people, “but not like that movie with Bruce Willis,” he hastens to add. He’s the son of Tia, a literary agent who, through a series of calamitous circumstances, is close to losing the family’s livelihood. Her brother, Jamie’s Uncle Harry, is in a home suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. His care bleeds whatever income Tia gets from her business. But she takes solace in her son, her off-and-on lover, NYPD detective Liz Dutton, and maybe too much wine. Jamie’s abilities come to their aid, though. While he’s only able to see and speak to the dead for a short while before they fade away, whenever he asks them a question, they have to answer truthfully. This comes in handy when Tia’s sole money-maker, author Regis Thomas, pops his clogs while working on the manuscript for the book that would save the business.
If only all of Jamie’s contacts with the dead were as lucrative. When Liz runs into trouble at her department, she needs the boy’s help in solving a big case, where the main suspect, a serial bomber known as “Thumper” is found dead by suicide. There’s one last bomb out there, and Liz needs its location to save her career, as well as the lives of innocent people. This is when the horror comes into play, because Thumper is reluctant to tell the truth. Jamie and his family find themselves up against a force that is more powerful that death itself.
Later follows Jamie, Tia, and Liz over a period of ten years or so. Jamie becomes a young man, still grappling with his identity; Liz and Tia have numerous fallings-out, with secrets and betrayal sapping the love out of their relationship. A final desperate throw of the dice from Liz leaves Jamie facing the monster that’s been haunting him for many years. It’s a brutal but necessary conflict in which there can only be one winner.
Reading Stephen King is, to me, like slipping on a pair of comfortable shoes. He’s been around for practically all of my readling life, and while most of would agree that his current output lacks anything that comes close to his classics (The Stand, It, The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot), there is always much to enjoy and examine whenever he publishes a new book. Writers swear by his non-fiction masterpiece, On Writing, and I would be in agreement here. I love that book, and relish picking it up everytime. As infuriating as The Dark Tower can be at the end, it’s still a monumental piece of fantasy literature, one that follows King around in many of his books. There could be elements of his multiverse in Later, but I’d have to read it a second time to work that one out. Still, there is at least one reference in Later to an event that happens in It, so I might not be far off the mark.
Later is an excellent book, and at the end, King pulls of a major surprise that’s going to polarise a lot of readers. But this is Stephen King; he’s not about to go all soft on us at this late stage in his career. At least I hope he’s not.
Any time I don’t have a watch on my wrist, I am conscious of its absence. It’s a lot simpler to look at my watch than it is to reach for my phone and get the time from there. I’ve always worn a watch and I feel close to naked if I am, for whatever reason, not wearing one. I suppose I’m like most people in that I need to know what time it is, what day it is, and–in these pandemic times–what month it is. So imagine waking up one day with no recollection of any of these mundane facts. That would be scary, right?
The main character in Patrick R. Delaney‘s latest novel, Silvers Hollow, faces such a bizarre and disconcerting situation. She is anonymous to the reader, remaining unnamed throughout the book, and despite having some memories, she is practically anonymous to herself. The premise is a simple one, if deceptively so. A woman wakes up on the platform of a deserted train station, with the train she may or may not have been on pulling away. She has no memory of how she got there, or where she is–or what time it is. Leaving the station she meets the first of the supporting characters that drift in and out of the narrative. The woman finds herself in the back of Officer Smith’s ancient police car, and he takes her on a strange and meandering journey through what seems to be her childhood town of Silvers Hollow.
Nostalgia ain’t what it used it be, the saying goes, and this particular trip down memory lane is anything but comforting. Delaney’s main character is put through the wringer, emotionally and physically. Silvers Hollow itself seems stuck in time, with none of the modern amenities you would see and take for granted today. And it’s always dark. The story, as it unfolds, leaves the reader and the woman without any light at all. There is a reason for this, but you need to stick the course to find out. Meanwhile, the woman has to contend with the mystery of why she is where she is, and what, if anything, her family has to do with her predicament.
The people she meets on her journey are equally as scared, but of what, they can’t or won’t say. This adds to the sense of menace and dread that permeates the book. Delaney’s decision to allow the reader to follow closely beside his main character is an excellent one. All throughout the book I felt the same things the woman felt. It was like being a companion to someone else’s dream, and it wasnt a comfortable experience at all. But I kept reading because, like the woman, I wanted answers.
Silvers Hollow makes full use of its brief running time, coming in a couple of pages shy of 190. But don’t let its brevity fool you: there’s a lot going on here, and nothing is what it seems. Patrick R. Delaney has crafted a well-written, atmospheric, psychological horror story. The end is both dystopian and apocalyptic, and you’ll never ever want to have a dream like it.
NetGalley and the publishers of Silvers Hollow provided me with an ARC in return for an honest review. I thank them for the opportunity. The book will be published June 1, 2021, and is available to pre-order.
I’ve read a couple of horror/monster related novels already this year, with Mark Matthews’ The Hobgoblin of Little Minds being the pick of the bunch. Cadwell Turnbull’s second book, No Gods, No Monsters, is a different beast altogether, if you pardon the pun. Both authors offer a fresh take on the werewolf mythos, preferring to focus on the psychological effect of actually being a monster in a contemporary environment. Whereas Matthews’ book is a visceral gut-punch, Turnbull’s novel is more reflective, has a larger cast of characters, and weaves its story through time and locations which don’t, at the outset, seem to connect with one another. But they do, in the end. How Turnbull gets there is genius.
It’s a difficult book to give a synopsis of, but I’ll try. The book is framed and narrated in parts by Calvin who, like the author, is a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He ends a relationship when he learns of his brother’s death. He goes back home to reconnect with his niece. Laina, who I consider to be the main character, has also lost her brother, Lincoln, who was gunned down by police. Echoes of police violence on people of colour in the U.S. and elsewhere weighed heavy on my mind as I read this and other parts of the story. Laina learns of a video of her brother’s shooting and immediately shares it online. It is proof that monsters live among us, because her brother was one. But the video is mysteriously edited, leaving Laina and her husband Ridley knocked back emotionally.
And that’s just two of the many character arcs going on here. Throughout the novel we learn of a war between two secret societies: one wants to let the world know that monsters co-exist with regular humanity; the other uses violent means to suppress the information. Caught between the two is a young boy with powers of his own, enough to turn the tide one way or another. He is protected by a group of women which includes a tech mage and a woman who literally takes her skin off and becomes invisible. The boy, who I won’t name because it’s a spoiler of sorts, is hunted by a man who’s been maimed in a ritual. It’s all sorts of crazy, and somewhere in the back of it all, there’s a debate on quantum physics and the ability to slip between dimensions. So, some of what happens occurs in our world, I think, while other events occur in a parallel universe.
One of the many things I love about this book is the diversity of its characters. Cadwell Turnbull brings them to life in a way I’ve not experienced in my reading too much of late. Turnbull brings his Caribbean culture to life in these pages, flavouring his book with characters that do not identify as ‘straight’ or binary. Despite being self-proclaimed monsters in the classic sense, they are as human as you or I, and share similar needs and identities as any of us on this planet. This book left me with a need to read more fiction by authors who don’t look like me, or live a lifestyle similar to mine. I consider this a must in this day and age.
Although No Gods, No Monsters is a fantastical tale, brilliantly written and told, the depth of feeling and sense of urgency is as real as anything you would see in our world. This book will sit with me for some time to come.
My thanks goes to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for supplying me with an ARC of No Gods, No Monsters, in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on September 7, 2021. Get your copy now. You won’t regret it.
I have a soft spot in my black little heart for the works of horror maestro Graham Masterton. Some time in the eighties I must have read close to a dozen of the author’s early work. Personal favourites were The Manitou, Charnel House, and for me, the daddy of them all, The Devils of D-Day, a crazy book that placed demons, angels, and all kinds of mythological beings right at the heart of WWII. I thought it magnificent.
Masterton’s books are literal page-turners. He wastes no time in setting the scene and getting straight into the beat of the story. In his most recent book, The Childen God Forgot, we’re thrown into a series of freaky situations that have doctors and police officers baffled. The setting is multi-cultural London, and our main characters DS Jamila Patel and DC Jerry Pardoe, who appeared in a previous book, Ghost Virus, have to deal with a strange occurence in the depths of London’s sewage system. A man has gone missing, and his colleagues tell a horrifying story of malformed children and an eerie green light. When the man is eventually found, he’s in serious condition, with his life hanging on a thread.
At the same time, a number of women are tormented by creatures that appear in their wombs despite not being pregnant, but having either aborted a foetus or miscarried one. These creatures have the faces of cherubs but have bodies that cannot be defined as human. Yet they live. And they are protected by a mysterious presence who will kill to defend her ‘nestlings’.
Graham Masterton has a way with grotesque set-pieces. He doesn’t pull any punches with his action scenes, and violent dismemberment or death is never far away for any of the characters in these pages. DS Patel and DC Pardoe are an engaging duo, reminiscent of Mulder and Scully in the early days of The X Files. They get the cases no other branch will go near, and often place themselves in danger when others would just cut and run. The truth is not so much out there, but under London, in the sewers.
The Children God Forgot is a great and pacy read. You’ll get exactly what you ask for and expect in a Graham Masterton novel. He makes use of his characters cultural differences to good effect, with DS Patel’s Asian background coming in to play a lot of the time. Masterton has always had a strong feel for the supernatural, and the research he did for this book is there for all to see and read. I enjoyed this book, and it reminded me of a more innocent time when I devoured his early books. He’s been prolific ever since, and I look forward to a return journey into the dark heart of Masterton’s world.
NetGalley and the publishers provided me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The first thing — the very first thing — that struck me about The Hobgoblin of Little Minds, before I even started reading it, before I even looked at the cover or researched the author Mark Matthews, was its title. The phrase is mentioned quite a few times in the text, and it is by no means a throwaway title. It means something to every character in this engrossing horror novel. It was coined by the poet, essayist, and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, taken from his 1841 essay Self Reliance. In it, Emerson states that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” A quick search on the internet explains this in layman’s terms for me: basically saying that just because you’ve thought the same thing for most of your life, or performed the same actions, it doesn’t absolve you of the importance of critical thinking, and the necessity of changing your mind and opinion when better information comes to light. (Sounds like a lot of politicians could use this advice here, but we won’t go there.)
Emerson’s metaphor takes on new life (literally) during the course of this novel. Told in a somewhat non-linear way, beginning in 2002 and ending in 2018, The Hobgoblin of Little Minds centres around five main characters. Kori Persephone Driscoe, who’s father Peter has been in and out of psychiatric institutions, serves as our introduction to Mr Matthew’s insane and dangerous world. Kori’s mother is about to hightail it out of Detroit and set up home with her new partner in Florida. Kori doesn’t want to go, and instead visits the hospital where she last saw her father. Anyone from Detroit will be familiar with Northville Psychiatric Hospital in Northville Township,Wayne County, and former Governer Engler’s closure of the hospital for economic reasons. Patients and staff were moved on elsewhere. Kori visits the abandoned building, already the subject of blogs and videos which suggest it’s haunted, and finds that nothing is what it seems anymore.
Peter has been the subject of genetic medical experiments by his doctor, the mysterious Dr Ziti. She is an expert in mental illness, and because of her own family trauma as well as a God Complex, she invents a pharmaceutical that she hopes will harness Peter’s bipolar disorder into something she can use. Basically she Dr Frankenstein, Psychiatrist. But Peter isn’t her first attempt at harnessing this disorder. Her previous failed attempts are chained up in the tunnels under the hospital, and when Kori finds them and her father, the narrative takes a number of strange and disturbing detours.
Maya, a Black woman, traumatised by her mother’s suicide, and subjected to heinous treatment by her local pastor, lands on Dr Ziti’s doorstep, and is partnered up with Peter in a bizzare and horrifying experiment; the result of which is the book’s fifth character, whom I will leave for you to find out more about. I’ve gone far enough into spoilery territory, and wish to go no further.
Over the last few years or so, there has been a plethora of vampire and zombie novels, movies, and television shows, but few if any on what we call werewolves. I want to point out that Mr Matthew’s monsters aren’t classic werewolves in the Lon Chaney, jr. vein; they are their own creation, but follow similar patterns of behaviour. The Hobgoblin of Little Minds is as much about how mental illness affects the families of those who endure bipolar disorder as it is about the victims of this illness themselves. Dr Ziti sees that classic attempts to treat sufferers of bipolar disorder don’t work anymore and that it’s time for something new, something extreme. She sees the foolish consistencies of those in the field who preceeded her. But she has an agenda of her own, a deeply personal one.
The Hobgoblins of Little Minds is at times a violent novel. There is one scene that literally had me crossing my legs, but the victim in question deserved their end. Hat’s off to the author, though, who had me enthralled from the first page, and I finished the novel over two nights. (This is a book to read in the dark, trust me.) It’s the terrifying offspring of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H.G. Well’s The Island of Doctor Moreau. It also raises questions on medical ethics, and how it can be that sometimes the people we trust to help us won’t always have our best interests in mind: which is something equally as terror-inducing as anything you’ll read in these pages.
It’s worth reading the author’s Afterword at the end of the book. Mark Matthews offers us his experience in the field of mental illness and treatment and how he came about to write his book. I found this very informative. If you want to learn more about Northville Psychiatric Hospital, you can check out the links here and here.
P. Djèlí Clark is an author I’m reasonably familiar with. Every now and again I like to read novellas, and because my chosen genre within this format is invariably horror, science fiction, and fantasy, I always find I’ve a lot of titles to choose from. By far my most favourite novella is Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, his revisionist and masterful retelling of HP Lovecraft’s short story The Horror at Red Rock. Lovecraft is well-known for his racism and xenophobia, and Red Rock is risible reading and is justifiably disdained. LaValle retold the story from the viewpoint of a Black man and put right everything that was wrong about it. I wrote a review some time back for MTR Network, which you can read here. P. Djèlí Clark may have written a story to knock LaValle off the top of my list, though. Ring Shout is as good a read as you can get, but it’s not a comfortable one: nor should it be.
The setting is Macon, Georgia, 1922. It is Jim Crow South. Our lead character is Maryse Boudreaux; she hunts monsters called Ku Kluxes, and she has a sword enchanted with the spirits of kings, chiefs, and slaves from centuries past to aid her in her quest. Their pain, anger, and hate fuels the sword, igniting it with righteous fury and the desire for retribution. P. Djèlí Clark creates an alternative history where the premiere screening of D.W. Griffith’s movie The Birth of a Nation calls into this world demons from another dimension who use White people’s hatred of Black people as a way to gain a foothold on Earth. There’s the Klan, and then there’s the Ku Kluxes: both separate but connected. Maryse and her friends roam the county and kill as many Ku Kluxes as they can. A wonderfully rounded-out supporting cast includes Sadie, a sharpshooter who carries her Winchester (Winnie) with her wherever she goes; Chef, a cheerfully queer WW1 veteran who’s the group’s explosives expert; Emma, a German girl who spouts Marxist philosophy but knows what it’s about; and Nana Jean, the community’s matriarch who is pure Gullah from start to finish. Clark doesn’t need to translate her dialogue for us; we need to do that for ourselves.
Then there’s the Aunties: Ondone, Margaret, and Jadine — they seem to be from the world the Ku Kluxes came from, but enlisted Maryse when she was a child to be their champion. They appear to Maryse in dreams and visions, helping when they can, but knowing that whatever happens, it’s Maryse who gets to make the final choices. Traumatised by the events which took the lives of her family, Maryse and her friends find themselves in a race against time. Butcher Clyde, who describes himself as Ku Klux management, intends to use Maryse as a pawn to bring an even greater evil into the world, with yet another screening of The Birth of a Nation, this time using Maryse’s lover Michael George as bait.
The Shout of the title is a chant and ritual that helps create Mama’s Water, a bootlegged liquor that’s potent in magic and mysticism. Nana Jean oversees its production, and it earns the community enough money to keep everyone going. Clark is brilliant in how he allows us to catch up with Gullah traditions, but yet keeps the story moving at such a pace that you’ll be hard-pressed not to finish it in one or two sittings. As I said earlier, Ring Shout is not a comfortable read, for many reasons. It’s a horror novel first and foremost, and the violence is frightening but creative. Like Victor LaValle’s novella, this is a story about Black people living and dying in a world where White people want them dead. It’s about how Black people survive despite the threats against them. There are no White saviours in Clarke’s story, nor should there be. When Butcher Clyde tries to use Maryse’s rage to end White domination, but bring a greater evil to power, Maryse’s choice is the result of centuries of Black repression. It’s powerful, intense, bloody, and cathartic. It’s also a beautiful thing to read.